Monday, January 31, 2011

Avoid formula "like the plague"?

I don't know why I read everything that comes across my facebook feed, but I have a rather unquenchable thirst for I do.  Even stuff that I know is going to "get my goat", and boy did this one! 

100 Reasons to Avoid Formula like the Plague

First, it made me incredibly sad.  I had just finished giving David a bottle of formula; I don't have a donor right now for breast milk, and our family decided that we would only take breast milk donation from people we know well (which is 2 awesome ladies with small freezer stashes).  There is another local baby, newborn and sick, who needs the milk more than my healthy horse of a toddler. The last comment had me crying into my colt's feather-soft hair as he slept in my arms.

"When you don't breastfeed you increase many risks and the child will never know it's true potential."

I cursed my body.  I hated my body for its failure.  I cursed my own inability to stay healthy enough to continue breastfeeding my son.  I kissed his petal-soft skin and tears ran down my face as I considered the list and its comments.  What if it's true?  What if my baby boy will never reach his true potential because my body failed him?

Then, of course, my brain kicked in.

You see, what this list forgot (and the list is not necessarily accurate or 100% truthful, I'll address that later) is that a healthy mother, in both mind and body, trumps every single reason on that list.  I am not a formula pusher.  I am a lactivist, truly told.  I don't think breast is "best"; I think it's "normal."  That is a very, very important distinction.  If you can breastfeed, you should.   If you don't breastfeed because you want pretty boobs or you want to party or because it's simply "convenient", I don't have a lot of respect for your choice.  Sorry.  Doesn't mean I don't respect you, or that you're a bad mother, it means we disagree.

Cesarean section is not "normal".  Vaginal birth is.  Does that mean vaginal is best in every situation?  No.  Everything is relative.  Guggie Daly, bless her amazing and insightful heart, wrote a wonderful piece recently about the need to end the Breast is Best campaign.  I agree with her for all the reasons she mentioned, plus one.  

I didn't take the medicine I needed after my son was born because of lists like The Plague.  I almost DIED.  I needed 2 blood transfusions.  I almost had my large intestine cut out of my body.  My large intestine is still bleeding, a year later, because I actually did avoid formula like the plague.  Smart?  No!  Stupid!  A miserable, sick, barely human breastfeeding mother is not ideal.  Dead mommies don't make milk, duh. 

I am not the only one.  I know 3 other mothers who also avoided medicine that was incompatible with breastfeeding, and who suffered serious health consequences as a result.  One was suffering from PPD, and it got so bad that she attempted suicide and had to be committed.  The low-level antidepressants she was taking weren't working, and the next level meant she couldn't breastfeed.   She avoided formula "like the plague", and slit her wrists.   I'm not making this up.

See, the funny thing is, when you've just had a baby, you just might not think straight, and lists like this haunt you.  I didn't.  Others didn't. 

I am an active member of many online mommy communities.  Lately, I have seen a number of mothers with supply problems, who are trying everything they can to raise their supplies, discuss giving their young babies cow's milk or soy milk, believing that it's healthier than formula.  There is a label now on the soy milk we purchased at Whole Foods - "not to be used as infant formula."  Why, do you think, does it need to be there?  It's not there for the mother who doesn't care what goes into her baby.  It's there so people know that other milks are NOT a viable alternative to breast milk or formula.   

Formula, while deeply flawed, inferior and imperfect, is better than giving a 3 month old baby cow's milk, which is made for baby cows, not baby humans.  Soy milk in particular is exceptionally dangerous for infants, lacking vital nutrients which are necessary to healthy development..

Don't avoid formula like the plague.  Don't avoid it like it's poison.   It is neither plague nor poison.  Avoid it if you have a breast milk alternative, be it pumped or from the breast.  Avoid it as a sub-normal, vastly inferior alternative and don't kid yourself that it's "just as good" as breast milk, because it's not.  It's not close to breast milk, no matter what the formula ads tell you.  But don't avoid it to the detriment of your own health, mental or physical.  Babies need a healthy mother more than than they need her breasts. 

[Related: this whole conversation goes away (or mostly goes away) if mothers who can breastfeed do, and if mothers who can donate do, and if mothers who can't have access to that donated breast milk.  Please support breast milk donation!  Check out Human Milk for Human Babies on Facebook!]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Just a quick post today, totally non-parenting related, but a cool story nonetheless.

I've gotten a couple of emails, asking if my son is "really" the 9th David.  Yes, he is. I hesitated to write this because of weird internet stalker potential, but I decided the story is worth the lack of anonymity.

As the story goes, the first David fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland in the mid 18th century.  He was one of the few survivors of the Battle of Culloden.  Most of the members of the clan didn't participate in the rebellion, so David #1 was a bit of a rebel, and apparently quite a character.  He was a younger brother of the clan laird, and his involvement in the rebellion almost cost the clan their lands... instead, he was imprisoned and briefly exiled.

The British response to the Battle of Culloden was severe and destructive to Scottish culture.  The clans were systematically destroyed.  David's older brother, Walter, was the last laird of Clan MacFarlane; after his death, the clan lands at Arrochar were sold; the clan was broken. 

David #1 returned to Scotland and married after his brother's death, but he and his wife had trouble having children.  They lost their first 3 sons to stillbirth.  Their fouth son survived, and they named him David, with a promise to hold true to the history and heritage, and to always name first born sons David.

We've lost the "a" in Mac to an immigration oops, but the first born David tradition lives on.  We hope to visit his ancestral land in Scotland some day.  I am very proud of the gift of this name, even if it does get complicated at family gatherings ("Dave!  Which one?  Big Dave!  Big Dave the son?  No, the Grandfather!  Oh, Grandpa?  No!  #7, Dammit!").

Davids 6, 7, 8 and 9

Does your baby's name have a story?  Do tell!

Monday, January 24, 2011

I was ____ and I'm fine!

One of the things I admire most about my mother is her ability to be painfully, boldly honest with herself about her own actions and mistakes.  It takes a deep level of courage, humility and flexibility to review your life's decisions, and not only admit to the mistakes that caused harm, but those that might have.  We were discussing parenting - her parenting of us, my parenting of my son, and how wanting to do things differently or even better doesn't make anyone who didn't follow those paths wrong.

Me and My Daddy, 1978

When I was a baby, my parents would visit their best friends on Fridays and play cards until late in the night.  I would fall asleep, and rather than wake me up by putting me in my carseat (what passed for a carseat in the mid-70s anyway), my mother would hold me in her arms in the front seat of the car for the 5 mile drive home.

I'm fine. 

My mother wanted to breastfeed me, but her doctor told me that I wasn't getting enough milk.  She switched to formula when I was 2 weeks old.  She always regretted the decision, but she didn't feel confident enough to argue with her doctor.

I'm fine.

 My parents were raised "by the rod" and followed suit with us, until I was about 10 and my mom's research led them in a different direction for discipline.  As a result, I was spanked more times than I can count, and the wooden spoon in the drawer doesn't remind me of baked goods.

I'm fine.

I wasn't a great sleeper as a baby, and my parents were told by their parents and doctors that the only way I'd ever sleep was if they left me to cry it out, which they did for a week straight.  It was such a miserable experience that they didn't repeat it with my brothers.

I'm fine.

My parents smoked until I was 8.  In the house.  Mom didn't smoke while she was pregnant, but a lot of her friends did.  I was around cigarette smoke constantly; I loved when my father would let me light his cigarette for him with his shiny Zippo.  My grandparents, aunts and uncles all smoked.

I'm fine.

1980's fashions never go out of style.

 Well, am I "fine"?  I'm a responsible citizen, a good parent, a kind person.  I pay my taxes, don't commit crimes, and try to be a respectable human being.  I have a high IQ, make over 100K a year, and sing professionally in my spare time.  I also have an auto-immune disease, occasional anxiety issues, and insomnia.  Are these a result of being formula-fed, crying it out, being physically punished and exposed to second-hand smoke?  Maybe, probably not - who can say for sure?  What if my parents had gotten in a car accident while I was in my mom's lap?

None of the examples above make my parents bad parents.  Quite the opposite - my parents are loving, caring and wonderful people who did the very best they could with the information they had at hand.  I have a close relationship with them; I am honored and lucky to have them.  If I could have chosen my own parents, I would not have chosen differently.  They are remarkable parents, and their willingness to admit to mistakes is one of the things that makes them so incredible.

The whole gang, Summer 2010

It bothers me when I hear people say, "I was _____ and I'm fine" as an excuse not try to for better with their kids.  When you know better, you do better.  Before you say, "I'm circumcised and I'm fine" or "I had peanut butter when I was 2 months old and I'm fine" or "My mom left me in the car while she went into the store and I'm fine", consider what might have happened.

I'm not a perfect parent.  I'll never be perfect.  There are already things I plan to do differently if I am blessed with another child (home birth and breastfeeding, to start the list!)

I can try to be the very best parent I can be, using as much evidence as I can to make parenting decisions, unhindered by the successes of the past.  Despite my un-carseated history, I made it to adulthood....but you'd better bet my little guy is staying in his (rear-facing) carseat!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bedsharing Lessons from Twizzler

Everyone, meet Twizzler.
Twizzler, 6 weeks - goopy eyes and all.

 Twizzler's mother died in an alleyway soon after he was born.  Luckily, a kind soul found him and his siblings and brought them to the local shelter.  He was bottle-fed, and managed to survive, even thought 2 of his brothers didn't.  I got a call from a friend at the shelter when they died; she suspected that little Twiz wasn't getting all the love he needed to thrive and asked me if I could bring him home.

Twizzler was super-tiny, his eyes didn't open all the way, and he was weak.  I had to feed him with milk from a dropper.  He was helpless and fragile. When night-time approached, I made up a nice bed for him in the bathroom, right near his litter box.  I set him down in it, and he started to cry - tiny little sounds, calling for my help.  Calling to not be left alone in the dark, like he'd spent so many nights, alone in his cage.

I brought my tiny kitty to bed.  He snuggled up under my chin, purring away.  He actually tried to nurse on my blanket and even on my freckle (I've since learned that this is called "woolsucking" and often happens to kittens who are weaned too early).  I held him close and settled down to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to an energetic kitten who seemed to have blossomed overnight. Over the next few days and weeks, Twizzler slowly became stronger.  He was soon able to eat on his own, and could hop on and off my bed.  He moved from my neck to the foot of my bed, and in time, learned to sleep in the living room.

He's now a big, happy, healthy cat - and he doesn't suck on the blankets anymore.  He's independent, kind-hearted, and very friendly.
Mommy, Twizzler, and 1 week old David, napping

 When David #9 made his entrance, I couldn't help but be reminded of my helpless kitty.  Just like his feline companion, my little boy was fragile and depended on me for everything.  And, just like my kitty, we had made a beautiful nursery for him....that he wanted nothing to do with!  The first night he was home, I gently laid him on his back in his crib, and he immediately started to cry. 

But...babies are supposed to sleep in cribs, right?

So, I brought him into our room, and laid him in the pack-and-play next to our bed.  No dice.  My baby didn't just want to sleep *near* me, he wanted to sleep *on* me.  In my arms.  For the first 5 weeks of my son's life, my husband and I slept in shifts.  One of us would stay up holding the baby, and the other would sleep in the bed.  I missed my husband, and he missed me.  We were both sleep-deprived and I was getting sick.

As my regular readers have heard a few times, I landed in the hospital when my son was about 5 weeks old, for a little over a week.  So, here Dave was, with a newborn (breastfed) baby that he not only had to immediately transition to formula, but who refused to sleep on his own!  After one night of trying to stay up in the recliner, they fell asleep the next night, together, in our king-sized, firm mattress, with the blankets down by Dave's waist.

My son slept for 6 hours, the longest he'd ever slept.

When Dave told me about it, I was upset.  I'd read all of the warnings about SIDS and how horrific it was to sleep with your baby.  He was ready for me!  He presented me with research, printed (love that man) about the benefits of co-sleeping and how to bedshare safely.  I was still skeptical.  Babies are supposed to sleep in cribs!

When I got home, David started to sleep in his crib for the first part of the night, and would bedshare with us if he woke up.  Unless his Daddy put him to bed... in our bed.  I was still unsure.  

A couple of weeks later, when he hit teething for the first time, Dave looked at me and said:

"Honey... You'll let the cat sleep with us, but not the baby?"


Well, duh.   How silly of me.  Just like my helpless little kitty, of course my baby wanted to be close to us.  And, just like my kitty, I was happy to have him in bed with us.  I love waking up to his sunny smiles in the morning; I loved not having to schlep out of bed to get him.  

Nowadays, David sleeps with us most of the time.  He starts the night in his crib sometimes, when (ahem) Mommy and Daddy feel like having the bed to ourselves (if the couch won't do).  We practice safe bedsharing, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  

He belongs with us.  It just feels right.  We got him a tee-shirt for Christmas that says this:

And now, I really feel that way.  I don't "let" David sleep with us.  We are privileged to have him to snuggle with.  Twizzler thinks so too; he's usually curled up by my feet.  I know that's not on the safe bedsharing list, but I think he's earned it.